Snyder, Texas: The John Wayne Film Fest

If you were asked to pick a place to host something called the John Wayne Film Fest, you could hardly make a better choice than little Snyder, Texas.

An oil, cotton, and cattle community of 11,000 souls on the high plains of West Texas, Snyder boasts a historic movie theater situated on a picturesque, old-fashioned town square. It hosts an annual motorcycle rally, as well as the West Texas Western Swing [Music] Festival.

And a huge sign downtown, headlined “Snyder Rotary Club Four-Way Test of the Things We Think, Say or Do,” asks: “1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Cliff Voake of Midland showed up for the John Wayne Impersonation Contest.

Snyder and its small-town ambiance and values, in other words, seem perfectly aligned with Wayne — the iconic, ruggedly masculine actor who came to symbolize individualism, justice, and the American Way. But it’s actually because Snyder is also the birthplace of an actor and director named Barry Tubb that, this coming Labor Day weekend, the town will host the John Wayne Film Fest benefiting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation for the second straight year.

The 49-year-old Tubb, who’s appeared in movies (Top Gun) and on television (Lonesome Dove, Friday Night Lights), still lives in Snyder, where he’s made a couple of feature films (Grand Champion, Clown Hunt). When he’s not pursuing his show-business career, Tubb hosts an annual dove hunt on his family’s Snyder property for Hollywood pals including Mike Simpson, who’s Quentin Tarantino’s agent, and various relatives of Wayne, who died of cancer in 1972 at the age of 79.

Those connections led Tubb to establish the festival — the first in the nation to be sanctioned by the Wayne family — along with Snyder resident Leslie Light.

“You can’t grow up in West Texas without being a John Wayne fan,” says Tubb, who was a world-champion junior bull rider in high school. “My dad told me, ‘Son, go out [to Hollywood] and be the next John Wayne.’ Well, I couldn’t do that. This festival is the best that I could do.”

John Wayne Film Fest co-founders Barry Tubb and Leslie Light are applauded at the dinner/charity auction at Snyder's Belle Opry House.

Most likely, the roughly 750 people who turned out for last year’s inaugural event would agree that Tubb’s “best” was pretty good. Held September 2-5, the festival’s main attraction was 72 nonstop hours’ worth of John Wayne’s best flicks. Kicking off at the old, art deco-style Ritz Theater in downtown Snyder with Stagecoach, the all-day-and-all-night movie marathon continued throughout the weekend with such Wayne classics as The Quiet Man, Rio Bravo, The Sons of Katie Elder, The Alamo, and True Grit.

There also was a special outdoor screening of The Searchers on a giant inflatable screen in a dusty pasture out near the Snyder VFW hall. The film was introduced to a crowd of 60 or 70 by Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment and a featured festival guest. In addition to his remarks prefacing the movie, McMurtry — whose son, James, also hunts with Tubb — showed up the following morning at the Manhattan CoffeeHouse on Snyder’s town square.

There, the Archer City-based writer proceeded to answer questions about Wayne, Hollywood moviemaking, and his writing career for an admiring throng that included Glenda Bamsey, a Snyder resident, and Mike Yawn, a political science professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.

Archer City author Larry McMurtry, at left, chats with fans during a Q&A session at Snyder's Manhattan CoffeeHouse.

Bamsey, who said she only saw John Wayne and Randolph Scott films growing up, noted that her “daddy thought Lonesome Dove was the most awesome movie ever.” Yawn said he and his wife, Stephanie Brim, and their son, Ryan, were attending the Snyder festival because they “just like films … and we enjoy exploring” different areas of Texas.

Across the street a little later, near the gazebo outside the Scurry County courthouse, a small crowd gathered as the weekend festival continued with a “Cowboy Church” service hosted by preacher Ray Perryman. A beefy man in a straw cowboy hat, Perryman played a boom box and sang a song called “I’m a Holy Ghost Man,” to the tune of Dwight Yoakam’s hit, “Honky-Tonk Man.”

Then a John Wayne Impersonation contest was held, with a number of children taking the hand-held microphone and saying, “Howdy, Pilgrim!” to much laughter and applause. At one point Cliff Voake, a professional John Wayne impersonator from Midland, strode out with Wayne’s trademark gait: “Believe in each other, and mostly in God,” Voake exhorted, his voice and costume making him a dead ringer for the late actor. “Read our history, and teach it to the little ones.”

The day wrapped up with a dinner and charity auction for about 300 people at the Belle Opry House. Wayne’s granddaughter, Anita Swift, helped auction off various items bearing his image, and Austin political consultant Karen Johnson — the fiancee of GOP operative Karl Rove, and another friend of Tubb’s — picked up a fancy gun case for more than $2,500. Later, Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys played great West Texas swing music until 1 the next morning.

Posters for the John Wayne Film Fest were plastered all over downtown Snyder.

This coming Labor Day, Tubb says, Nix will return, and the festival will show the original, 6-hour-and-20-minute-long Lonesome Dove in its entirety, with a “chuck-wagon lunch break” at its midpoint. The choice of Lonesome Dove came about, Tubb says, after McMurtry mentioned last year that he wrote the film’s original script for John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda. Wayne’s daughter, Marisa, and son, Ethan, will attend this year, and Dean Smith, an original cast member of Wayne’s 1970 flick Rio Lobo, will introduce that film and conduct a Q&A afterwards.

For information about the 2012 John Wayne Film Fest, to be held August 31-September 2, go to johnwaynefilmfest.com.

How to Get There: From Dallas-Fort Worth, take Interstate 30 west until it merges with Interstate 20 West. Take the exit toward Snyder/Lubbock and continue north on Highway 84 until you arrive in Snyder. Estimated distance: about 260 miles.

3 comments on “Snyder, Texas: The John Wayne Film Fest

  1. Hi Glenn, How thoughful of you to remember me and send the up date and new info for the JW festival. I t was a great time last year. Your article is meaningful to me. as i too think Lonesome Dove is the western of all westerns. I can see my cowboy grandfather as a living ‘gus’ Barry Tubbs grandfather York and my grandfather Dorward were early ranchers in Scurry County.
    I doubt, however I’ll make it this year as the apartment/condo I was in last year was sold… not to me, I didn’t want to own any thing else to maintain etc. etc.so I don’t have a long term place to stay any more. I will be in Snyder with 2 artists pals for an art exhibit where I will show some of my watercolors and photographs. The artist’s reception /opening is Sept 13, at the Manhattan coffee house at 7 pm. come back for it. free wine and cheese. It will be interesting as all three of us are snyder high school grads… and probably the only 3 artists …that will be the week end of the Sports Hall of Honor, as well. all the best and thanks again for thinking of me with the article and info. clinta williams.

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  2. Glenn, Thanks for the nice article about the John Wayne Festival in Snyder; I was a team mate of Dean Smith who is scheduled to be in Snyder for this year’s festival. Dean graduated before I did at UT and left for Hollywood. Later, several of our UT track team members and I were sitting down on the football field at the Kansas Relays in Lawrence, Kansas. Dean walked up with a tall, black-headed young man and introduced him as his friend, Jim Bumgarner, who had helped him get work as a stunt man in Hollywood. As they sat down and visited with us, Dean mentioned that Jim had just begun filming a TV series called Maverick, and had shortened his name to James Garner. Dean worked in over 50 films, mostly as a stunt man, and was in many of John Wayne’s Westerns. He was on our UT world record setting 440 yd. relay team–and earned a gold medal in the l952 Olympics as a member of the USA 400 meter relay team. He was very athletic, fast and a cowboy–a perfect combination for his stunt-man profession. Keith Pitner

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